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A Critical Look at Arizona’s Ban on Selective Abortion

This week, Arizona passed a law that makes it a felony to knowingly terminate a pregnancy that was sought because of the race or sex of the fetus. 

Karen Franz, a graduate student in this semester’s “Science, the Environment and the Media” class examines the law and how each side in the abortion debate are trying to strategically frame their position.  As Franz notes, organizations like Planned Parenthood have defined their opposition in traditional abortion rights terms but they have also added a new frame of reference. Here’s what Franz writes:

Planned Parenthood is not only invoking the abortion rights frame, but is also casting doubt on the appropriateness of the discrimination frame. “We don’t have evidence of these kinds of motives in the state,” said Howard, referring to the incidence of abortions sought due to race or gender.

Here is where Planned Parenthood has the facts on its side – in fact, there is little evidence that such abortions are a widespread problem in the United States, and certainly sex-selective abortions in particular occur here far less often than in countries like China. Although such facts are unlikely to persuade social conservatives that the ban is unneeded, they may be enough to persuade progressives to see the ban in terms of the abortion rights frame instead of the discrimination frame.

Yet as Franz also notes, if sex-selective abortions are indeed on the rise, the trend requires additional thinking from abortion-rights defenders:

Given that more sophisticated technology has made it far easier to determine the gender of a fetus early on in a pregnancy — at a time when abortions are more likely to occur, and are becoming less invasive for the mother and are less expensive — sex-selective abortions may become a more pressing issue than it was in the past. Thus progressives may find themselves needing to develop a new heuristic for such abortions, rather than relying on traditional abortion rights frames.

Franz is a member of the Reproductive Health Project team in this semester’s class at American University on “Science, the Environment and the Media.”  You can read other posts by Franz and the rest of her team at the blog they created via WordPress.


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